Definition

value stream mapping

Contributor(s): Brenda Cole

Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing visualization tool for recording all the repeatable steps that are required to bring a product to market. Value stream mapping has two important goals: to identify processes that do not provide value so they can be improved and to help management become more aware of the impact of their actions.

Value stream maps have their roots in the Toyota lean production system. In this context, value can be thought of as anything the customer is willing to pay for and any process that does not provide value is called waste. In keeping with Toyota's kaizen philosophy, value stream mapping emphasizes kaizen, also known as continuous improvement.

The philosophy has been adopted by many other industries outside manufacturing including healthcare and software development. When used in DevOps, for example, value stream mapping can reveal steps in development, test, release and operations support that waste time or are needlessly complicated.

Because a value stream often crosses department boundaries, it can be challenging to identify everyone who need to be involved in the creation of a map. Once the stakeholders have been identified, however, everyone should ideally gather in person to virtually or physically walk through each step in a process and document repeatable actions.

The map itself is typically created as a one-page flow chart depicting the various steps involved in moving a product, project, or service from start to finish. Although software can be used to create value stream maps, some experts feel that mapping programs impose artificial constraints during the collaboration process and it's actually more efficient to use low-tech whiteboards while people are actually gathered together.

Once consensus for the accuracy of the current state VSM has been reached, stakeholders can use the shared visualization to identify limitations and deficiencies and brainstorm changes that will eliminate waste. Typically, a mapping session concludes with the creation of a future state VSM that documents agreed upon changes and the VSM process is continued in an iterative manner. 

This was last updated in November 2017

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